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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
A Valentine To Paper

At the dawn of the computer revolution, we were promised a paperless office, and the implication was we'd eventually achieve a paperless world. Ha!

My clients call me because they have sedimentary-rock-like layers of paper dating back weeks, months, years…covering all of the horizontal surfaces of their offices and homes. Our mailboxes fill up each day with more credit card offers, and our computer desks are covered with printouts upon which we hand-doodle notes and edit changes.

And yet, the official word has arrived that in the war between paper and ourselves, paper is making a strategic retreat. So sayeth the Grey Lady of journalism. This weekend, the New York Times reported that:

After rising steadily in the 1980s and '90s, worldwide paper consumption per capita has plateaued in recent years. In the richest countries, consumption fell 6 percent from 2000 to 2005, from 531 to 502 pounds a person.

Well, I'm thrilled to know I just lost 29 pounds, but I won't rush out to buy any new outfits yet.

Certainly, it's true that people are using their computers more, especially for time- and money-saving tasks like online bill-paying. I am somewhat dubious, though, about the suggestion that people are printing fewer pages due to the high cost of ink; an increased cost of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups® is unlikely to keep me from grabbing those delights in orange wrappers, and I'm equally unlikely to do all my notes and brainstorming at the computer.

Paper Doll loves organizing paper and eliminating the unnecessary piles. That's not in doubt. I adore that the Digital Age can help us all eliminate useless paper excess:

Mystery phone numbers – Find a scrap of paper with a phone number that means no more to you than an ISBN code or trigonometry problem? Just type a phone number (including the area code) into the Google search box (like, 212-555-1212) and if the phone number is listed, you'll not only know whose number you scribbled, chance are good you'll be provided with a way to map the directions to the phone's location.

To Do Lists – There are myriad sites to help you log your To-Do lists and even share them with others:
  • Blah Blah List
  • Orchestrate
  • Remember The Milk (with a delightful interface)
  • Rough Underbelly (makes getting things done into a came)
  • Ta Da List
  • To Doist
With these, you can send reminders to your email, voicemail, home/office/personal phone and even, in the case of Monkey On Your Back, to other people to make sure they're working on the tasks you've delegated to them.

If you use a digital system like one of these, you'll have no worries that you'll lose the list, and no fears that your lack of motivation will get the better of you. If you don't visit your list, there are multiple ways to ensure your list will visit (or, if need be, stalk) you.

Work Sharing – Now that more of us are outside the traditional office environment, we may be working (or playing) from home. Instead of passing documents back and forth over the tops of our cubicles, the web allows us to share documents, edit changes and truly collaborate.

Ten years or so ago, we were excited about the "track changes" option in Microsoft Word, but we still had to face problems when Word for Windows and Word for Mac failed to show mutual affection. Now, even though they play nicely with others, we don't even need to buy software suites; we can create and mutually edit documents stored in cyberspace in our free GoogleDocs or Zoho accounts.

Yes, Paper Doll loves the computer, but aspects of the New York Times article still leave me lukewarm about paper backing off the world's stage.

I am torn regarding the notion of outsourcing the scanning of our memorabilia and photos. I'm currently reading Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, which does a better job explaining the globalization of economics than anything Paper Doll's little math-addled mind has ever encountered. Thanks to Friedman, it doesn't surprise me that a company like ScanCafé, headquartered in San Francisco but operating in Bangalore, India, will take your Dolce & Gabanna shoeboxes full of old photos, do all the scanning and retouching, and soon return the original mess along with nicely digitized and indexed photos on CD and/or in an online vault. Wow.

Am I nervous about sending the proof of my life's existence across the globe? (Really, that's all photos are, tangible evidence we've been on the planet.) Well, after reading Friedman's book, I'm more confident my proof-of-life won't be lost. And my clients who have been cajoled into feeling guilty for not having scrapbooked every moment of their children's lives might be persuaded that this could be a guilt-releasing miracle. But even Paper Doll, a Certified Professional Organizer®, isn't eager to square away every nook and cranny's worth of paper into a digital checkbox.

Can we really appreciate function and tidiness if no area of our lives remains untidy? Can a Kindle or Sony Reader Digital Book ever compete with a winter night shared with a well-worn copy of Pride & Prejudice or a sweltering 70's summer reading Jaws?

Isn't there still something romantic about a rainy Sunday afternoon spent wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, noodling through old, dog-eared photos and tear-stained love letters? Will our children's children feel just as warmhearted if they rifle through digital photos and archived emails?

Paper Doll longs for a world with less paper, but not a paperless world.

posted on: 2/12/2008 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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